When offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell told a group of season-ticket holders that the Seattle Seahawks are “going to be a running back by committee” team (via Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times), second-year halfback Christine Michael became the talk of the town.
Michael’s Hollywood-esque status shouldn’t surprise anyone after Bevell’s comments. Seattle used a second-round pick on the 221-pound back last year, and Marshawn Lynch is entering the third year of his four-year, $30 million contract.
Furthermore, Lynch turned 28 years old in April and has carried the ball 616 times over the course of the last two seasons. That’s an astronomical number based on the fact the NFL has turned into a two-back, pass-first league.
Nevertheless, the Seahawks have been trendsetters since head coach Pete Carroll’s arrival in 2010. This, in turn, means Seattle has been known for its ability to adjust on the fly and do what is best for the team. Even if that means slashing Lynch’s snaps after the second-best season of his career.
Yet, one has to wonder if Michael is really ready to take precious snaps from Lynch.
Obviously, we won’t know the true answer to that question until the 2014 season gets kicked off in September, but it’s always fun to speculate in the mean time.
Here’s what ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Louis Riddick said about Michael on June 9, via Riddick on Twitter: “When Christine Michael gets his chance regular season '14, provided he's healthy, he'll show he's the most gifted RB drafted in past 5 yrs.”
Riddick may be onto something. In addition to dominating opposing players at the collegiate level (2,791 yards rushing, 5.3 yards per carry and 34 touchdowns), Michael flashed explosive, breakaway speed as a rookie.
On 18 carries in 2013, Michael tallied 79 yards rushing, five first downs and a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) rush grade of plus-1.6.
Those were impressive numbers considering fellow backup running back Robert Turbin amassed a minus-0.6 rush grade in spite of playing 211 more snaps and garnering 59 more carries than Michael.
Yes, it would be foolish to completely judge Michael after 18 regular-season carries, because the sample size is so small, yet it’s hard to ignore his ability to create big plays on the ground.
According to Brian Nemhauser of HawkBlogger.com, Michael made the most of his carries in 2013 by rattling off seven runs of seven yards or more. This means 38.9 percent of his runs went for seven yards or more. That was a higher percentage than both Lynch (20.6 percent) and Turbin (16.9 percent).
Clearly, it’s hard to draw conclusions from 18 carries total and seven juicy runs of seven yards or more, but it’s evident the Seahawks want to get Michael involved in the team’s offensive game plan.
Here’s what Coach Carroll told reporters in May, via Marc Sessler of NFL.com: "He's got explosive talent and we just want to get him to fit in."
When you take the time to examine Michael’s numbers from his rookie season as we did, it’s safe to say Seattle won’t have a problem fitting the second-year running back in. His talents are too good to ignore.
However, the biggest problem the Seahawks will face is trying to decide how many carries they are going to allocate to Michael without alienating Lynch.
Fortunately for Lynch, the good news is the Seahawks have never used a running back by committee approach under Coach Carroll. In fact, no backup runner has had more than 80 carries in a season, which means Seattle’s No. 2 running back during Carroll’s tenure generally averages five carries a game.
However, that doesn’t mean the Seahawks’ offensive coaching staff is completely opposed to the idea of using a No. 2 running back more than they have in the past, via Nemhauser of HawkBlogger.com:
If you look at Tom Cable's history with the Raiders and the Falcons, he is not completely opposed to the concept. Michael Bush and Darren McFadden got over 110 carries in 2010 and 2011. Jerious Norwood got 100 carries in relief of Warrick Dunn during Cable's tenure with the Falcons.
The one thing to take away from Nehmhauser’s research on Cable is that the third running back on those teams didn’t record more than one or two carries per game.
It’s starting to look like the Seahawks’ committee will consist of only two running backs. And as it stands right now, Lynch will be the lead dog and Michael will spell him.
Coincidentally enough, this puts Turbin’s roster spot in jeopardy. And cutting Turbin shouldn’t shock anyone if it does happen. Why? Because the third-year runner out of Utah State hasn’t lived up to expectations.
In two years' time, the fourth-round pick has only averaged 3.9 yards per carry on 157 attempts and hasn’t scored a touchdown in 32 games. Not to mention, his accumulative PFF grade is plus-1.9.
No, that’s not a terrible grade, but just remember Michael accumulated a plus-one grade overall on 26 snaps last season. Based on those numbers, Michael is a much more effective player on a per-snap basis. It’s that simple.
In all, it’s easy to see why the Michael hype train is in full effect. Seattle’s coaching staff loves him, his overall ceiling as a player is higher than Turbin’s and he’s a playmaker at his core. Plus, you could safely assume that he is the heir apparent to Lynch’s throne.
Lynch’s cap number in 2014 is manageable at $7 million, but there’s no way the Seahawks are going to pay a 29-year-old running back $9 million in 2015. And Michael can’t sit and rot on the bench forever.
In preparation for Lynch’s departure, Michael should see at least 10 percent of Seattle’s backfield carries in 2014, while Lynch will see the other 90 percent.
For comparison’s sake (using last year’s numbers), that means Lynch will see 280-300 carries and Michael will see 80-100 carries in 2014. That’s not a 50/50 split in the backfield, but I don’t think Bevell’s running back by committee comments were ever meant to be taken that way.
Bevell was merely trying to send a message that it’s in the Seahawks’ plans to get Michael heavily involved moving forward.